Rise of the machine: An abridged history of all-road wagons

2013 Audi allroad

Audi’s 2013 allroad combines wagon-like utility with a go-anywhere attitude.

If you were there, you’ll remember it clearly. No, not JFK Motorcade clearly, or Neil Armstrong’s walk-on-the-moon clearly, but the memory – and imagery –still resonates. And more than coincidental was the timing of the AMC Eagle’s introduction, almost exactly ten years after the Armstrong/Aldrin Eagle had landed. For the beleaguered American Motors Corporation, launch of its AMC Eagle was a moonshot of a different kind; it was literally the invention of both a different car and different category.

Derived by combining AMC’s Concord compact with an all-wheel drive system developed by Britain’s Ferguson Research, the Eagle was everything you’d need to negotiate bad weather sitting atop bad roads. At the time of its introduction (summer of 1979) it was America’s only production passenger car utilizing full-time all-wheel drive. With the Concord’s practical (for the time) proportions, slightly increased ride height for better ground clearance and all-season capability at an affordable price point, the Eagle flew quite high on the AMC sales charts. The Eagle remained in continuous production through the sale of American Motors to Chrysler in 1987.

AMC Eagle

AMC’s’ Eagle was both a new car and  category.

Some twenty-five years later the recipe – road-going wagon with raised ride height and all-wheel drive – still resonates. And we were reminded of just how compelling that recipe is with the reintroduction of a favorite, Audi’s all-season/all-road allroad, built – in this iteration – on the A4 Avant platform. With Americans continuing to show little appetite for the practical and rational station wagon, automakers’ product teams and marketers conjure new ways of turning the station wagon into something palatable to American tastes.

With the demise of the AMC Eagle (and derivatives) after 1988, it wouldn’t be until 1995 before Subaru picked up the all-weather/all-road baton, initially as a trim package for its Legacy wagon. Dubbed ‘Outback’, the raised wagon with all-wheel drive and (now obligatory) cladding was a huge hit from the git-go, almost singlehandedly putting Subaru on its volume-oriented (albeit not-quite-mainstream) trajectory.